Note from Ray: At our recent RWDevCon tutorial conference, in addition to hands-on tutorials, we also had a number of “inspiration talks” – non-technical talks with the goal of giving you a new idea, some battle-won advice, and leaving you excited and energized.
We recorded these talks so that you can enjoy them, even if you didn’t get to attend the conference. Here’s our next talk – Identity I by Vicki Wenderlich – I hope you enjoy!
Have any of you ever been at a conference or a party and had somebody walk up to you and say, “Hey it’s good to see you again.” And you look at them and you smile, but you’re thinking, “Who are you?”
Unless you’re really drunk, you usually figure out who it is. It’s just somebody you met earlier and forgot.
For me, there’s another option. Sometimes I realize that no, I have never met this person in my life. What I realize is that they’ve met my twin sister, Andrea.
Andrea, would you come up here for a moment?
How many of you just now realized that there were two of us? If this happened to you, don’t worry. It happens to a lot of people, even including our friends.
I’ve been to a lot of parties at my sister’s house where I’m meeting her friends for the first time. Andrea often forgets to mention to her friends that she has an identical twin, so there are a lot of moments where her friends walk in the door and give me a big hug before I can say, “I’m not Andrea.”
Growing Up As A Twin
This kind of thing doesn’t bother me, but it makes me think a lot about my identity.
Can you imagine just for a moment what it’s like to be indistinguishable from another person, even on a superficial level? It kind of messes with your mind.
When Andrea and I were young little munchkins, identity didn’t matter much to us. However, as we grew up of course, it did begin to matter.
We wanted to be seen as separate people with our own identities. We often get the question from people, “did you ever switch classes in school?”
The answer is no. We never wanted to be mistaken for each other. We wanted to stand out.
Unfortunately, my sister and I were very similar in both looks and personality, so this was often a losing battle.
We both played soccer together, we had a lot of the same friends.
Sometimes people would helpfully suggest, “Hey, one of you should dye your hair purple.”
Neither one of us wanted to dye our hair, and plus that person would end up looking like this.
All it would accomplish is that one of us would be known as the weird twin and one of us would be the normal twin.
At any rate, our acquaintances often couldn’t tell us apart. Classmates, teachers, even soccer coaches. There have been a lot of games where I’ve been standing on the sideline next to my coach, and he’s yelling, “Vicki, pass the ball.”
I have to poke him and say, “Coach I’m right here.”
Inside I saw myself as Vicki, but outside I was just one of the twins.
Luckily we grew up, we went to college, started having different life experiences and finally being mistaken for my twin became a series of funny stories instead of a frustrating attempt to be seen as an individual.
This, by the way, is why Andrea forgot to mention that she had an identical twin to her friends. She wasn’t trying to instigate awkward moments; she just actually forgot, because being a twin isn’t a big part of her identity.
Identity Problems: It’s Not Just a Twin Thing
You don’t have to be a twin in order to struggle with your identity. In fact it’s a much more powerful force in your life than most of you might realize.
We all have our own personal sense of identity and it’s split into two parts:
- Inner identity: This is how we see ourselves. You might think of yourself as a good daughter, or a writer, or an iOS developer.
- Outer identity: This is how other people see us. You might actually be helping out your parents a lot, or writing every day or have a day job as an iOS developer.
However, sometimes people see us differently than how we see ourselves. Let’s take this kitten. (There’s got to be a kitten right?)
When he looks in the mirror, he sees a lion. The problem is, everyone else looks at him and sees a kitten.
Does anybody have a cat like that? My sister does.
Now, kittens aside, a serious problem arises when your inner identity and your outer identity don’t match up. It can make you unhappy.
The discord between the two of them can make you feel like there’s something not quite right. That’s going to make you depressed even if you might not understand why.
Vicki’s Struggle with Identity
This leads us to my next major struggle with identity. After college, I became a ceramic artist. I’d always worked with ceramic art, but after college I threw my whole being into this new identity. It was so fulfilling.
Unfortunately, it didn’t make much money. Somewhere along the line, I started helping out this cute guy I happened to be married to with his iPhone apps.
Eventually, it got to the point where I was spending more time on his apps and our blog than I was on my own art. Finally, I decided to make the decision to stop trying to make my ceramic art into a business and instead focus on the thriving business that Ray and I already owned.
Now I told myself that I was happy about this decision, but the truth was I was miserable. I resented every minute of it even though the work was interesting and challenging and paid the bills.
Why? This was because my inner identity was still stuck as a ceramic artist.
Every minute that I spent working on the business, I was thinking, I should really be making a sculpture. Why am I wasting my time, wasting my life, on all of this other stuff?
There was this idea in my head, this identity that I clung to, that I was a ceramic artist. Now it might sound like a small problem, but there was a point that I didn’t want to get up in the morning.
Ray would jump out of bed enthusiastic and ready for the day. I would look at his energy and think, what is wrong with me?
We work from home, so I took every opportunity I could to get out of the house. I would invent errands that I had to go run.
When I did work at my desk, I would work slowly and reluctantly.
Okay. I know some of you out there are thinking, “What is this girl’s problem? Either work with your ceramic art or work with Ray, but stop moping!”
It didn’t make sense to me either. I knew I didn’t want to go backwards and do my ceramic art and try to keep making that a business, but I couldn’t seem to move forward either. I felt empty and lost.
Ray’s Struggle with Identity
Now, most of the time, Ray is ridiculously enthusiastic about his work, but even he went through his own identity crisis.
He’s a programmer you may have heard. That’s how I got started here. Being a programmer is his identity.
As the business grew, though, he found himself having to shift his time more and more towards management in order to keep things running smoothly. It got to the point where he was hardly doing any programming at all.
The trouble is, to Ray, the word manager was a dirty word. He subscribed to the very popular programmer belief that managers don’t get any work done.
It’s the programmers that do the real work.
He wasn’t very happy when every time he looked in the mirror he expected to see a programmer and instead he saw a manager.
Do Your Inner and Outer Identities Match?
When your inner identity and your outer identities don’t match up, you can feel false. That’s going to make you feel frustrated, irritable, and depressed.
When your inner identity does match up with your outer identity, you feel happy and confident because you’re acting in a way that’s true to yourself and your goals.
What do you do if you realize that your inner and outer identities have drifted apart? What do you do when your mirror shows two different reflections?
You have two choices. You can change your inner identity, or you can change your outer identity.
Option 1: Change Your Outer Indentity
Changing your outer identity means changing what you’re doing on the outside to match what’s happening on the inside. This might mean:
- Quitting your job
- Moving to a different location
- Starting up a hobby
- Joining a club
If you see yourself as a healthy, fit person and you’re not – we’ve all been there – then you can start up an exercise habit.
If you see yourself as a free spirit, but you’ve been feeling trapped working at a bank, save up your money and finally go on that backpacking trip that you’ve been dreaming about.
If you see yourself as a brilliant app developer, but you haven’t gotten around to learning Swift yet, then come to RWDevCon.
Learn the skills that you need in order to become the person you see inside. Change what’s happening on the outside to match what’s happening on the inside.
Once upon a time, Jeff taught app development courses at a technical college. He spent his nights and weekends coding.
Did I mention that he also had a wife and two young children? All of these demands on his time took a heavy toll.
At one point, the stress load was so high that he landed in the hospital.
Jeff took this opportunity to reevaluate his life. He realized that he’d always thought of himself as an app developer who used teaching to make money, but in reality, he was a teacher with a coding habit that he didn’t have time for. And a teacher is not what Jeff wanted to be.
Jeff quit his teaching career of over a decade and became a full time app developer. Of course, that meant he was full time unemployed for a while.
They moved out of their house and back into his mother’s house for a time. It took six months before they could even make rent again.
He worked hard and things improved and now he’s working at a job he loves, making apps.
It was worth all the stress. His outer identity now matches up with his inner identity as an app developer.
That’s what happens when you’re changing your outer identity to match your inner identity. What about the opposite?
Option 2: Change Your Inner Identity
What if you decide, hey I want to keep my job. I like it. It’s helping me accomplish my goals.
Then you need to change your inner identity.
Changing your inner identity means embracing your outer identity with open arms. It means saying to yourself, “Hey this is who I am – and I like it!”
In Ray’s case it meant recognizing that managing his team was really important. Somebody needed to do that work.
The alternative to being a manager was shutting the website down completely. Ray didn’t want to do that. He wanted to keep growing the website and growing his company.
He had to change his way of thinking. He had realize that:
- The manager is the person who keeps things running and organized.
- That’s really important work.
- He had to change his inner identity from programmer to manager.
- He should be proud of being a manager.
Changing your inner identity is not an instantaneous process. You can’t just flip a switch.
It’s rooted very deeply in your psyche, but it is possible to change your inner identity. It takes three things:
- Self awareness
For Ray, instead of saying to himself, “Another day wasted answering emails,” he learned to say, “I answered a lot of emails today that were really important and all of my team made progress on all of their projects.”
Eventually, your identity will shift to match your words and you’ll feel like your acting true to yourself once more.
Here’s what those two choices looked like for me:
- Change my outer identity which meant saying to my husband, “Sorry I am going back to the studio and you are own your own with the business.”
- Change my inner identity and embrace my new role as an entrepreneur.
I chose the latter because I realized that I liked a lot of what I was doing as an entrepreneur.
I liked creating art that was used and appreciated, like the art that you can see in our books and in our tutorials. Here’s some of the game art I made that I’m particularly proud of.
I liked learning what it takes to publish books or be a better speaker or run a conference.
It was only this identity as a ceramic artist that I’d been clinging to that was making me really unhappy.
Use Your Words!
Once I realized this I started changing how I talked to myself.
I started purposely picking out the great things about what I was doing and describing what I did in a more positive way.
For example, you might notice that I call myself an:
I don’t know if I technically fit the description of an entrepreneur, but it makes me sound cool to myself and it’s a lot shorter than saying artist, accountant, book publisher, jack of all trades who does whatever is needed to keep the business running.
Once I started shifting my inner identity to being an entrepreneur, I got a lot more excited about my work.
- Before my inner identity was: I’m an artist, but right now I’m helping out my husband with his business.
- Now my identity is: I’m an entrepreneur and I can handle anything that comes my way.
See what a difference that makes?
Not Just “One Of The Twins”
Remember back to the beginning of this speech when I was talking about my frustration growing up as a twin? Looking back, that was another case of my inner identity not matching up with my outer identity.
I saw myself as a wonderful, unique, special snowflake and everybody else saw me as one of the twins. It was the discord between those two identities that caused me so much anguish.
As an adult, I don’t have that problem. Most of the world sees me as very different from my sister, even if they do confuse us still at parties sometimes, or conferences. Being a twin is only one small part of my identity rather than the entire thing.
Don’t worry. If you come up to me and think that I’m my sister, I’m not going to hate you. Just don’t hug me until we get to know each other better. :]
Now It’s Your Turn
My challenge to you today is to take stock of your own inner and outer identities.
When they match up, it’ll make you happy and confident and successful.
If they don’t match up it’s going to make you feel depressed and apathetic, which can hold you back both in your personal life and in your career.
Give this concept of identity the respect that it deserves. Take a look at yourself and see if something’s not right. If you do realize that you’re depressed and it’s because your inner identity and your outer identity are not in alignment, be brave enough to take the steps to bring them back together again.
Every so often, look in the mirror and ask yourself, “Am I being true to myself?”
If the answer is no, it’s time to make a change.